Most beaches in Galveston County will be closed during the long Independence Day weekend against a background of rising COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

Following other Texas governments that recently limited or closed access to the coast during the Fourth of July holiday, Galveston County and the city of Galveston announced closures Wednesday.

The orders were meant to dissuade visitors who have been crowding island and Bolivar Peninsula beaches this summer, but local business owners weren’t convinced the move will have the intended effect.

MORE COMING

While this beach closure will only last for the weekend, the city is planning to implement less restrictive rules to manage crowds, parking and access points through Sept. 30, Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough isn’t planning on issuing those orders until next week, he said.

Yarbrough expects that order to include no-parking rules for the north side of Seawall Boulevard and limiting some access points, he said.

THE RULES

The city of Galveston plans to close beaches from 5 a.m. Friday to 12:01 a.m. Monday, according to the mayoral order.

No one may walk on or drive along the 30 or so miles of sand from East Beach to the San Luis Pass, including the beach at Boddeker Road, according to the order.

Jamaica Beach, an independent city with jurisdiction over a short stretch on the island’s West End, will also close its beaches during the same time frame, according to a late announcement from the city.

The decision follows advice from the Galveston County Health District, according to the announcement. The city is also prohibiting parking south of Henry Morgan Road this weekend, according to the announcement.

In addition, people in Galveston won’t be allowed to picnic or place grills, coolers or chairs on the north and south sides of the seawall and can’t pause on the seawall for more than five minutes, although they can still walk, jog, bicycle or skateboard, according to the order.

People can’t park on either side of Seawall Boulevard or on the beach adjoining Boddeker Road, according to the order.

Yarbrough said he hoped the order would discourage many people from coming to Galveston.

“I have no qualms or second thoughts,” Yarbrough said. “It’s the right thing to do for public health.”

About two hours after the city announced its closure, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry’s office announced beaches on Bolivar Peninsula would close. Henry’s office said the Bolivar closure was a direct result of the city closing its beaches, which could cause an increase in the number of people going to county-managed beaches on the peninsula.

Henry ordered the closure on the advice of Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser, officials said.

The Bolivar beach closure will be during the same time frame as the city of Galveston’s.

THE ENFORCEMENT

Galveston Police Department officers, city marshals and lifeguards with the Galveston Island Beach Patrol will work to ensure people follow the rules, according to the city.

Because it has more staff, beach patrol is in a much better position to manage the closure than during the first pandemic-induced beach closure three months ago, Chief Peter Davis said.

“It’s the difference between having 15 and 100 people,” he said.

Beach patrol will staff guard towers to ensure people don’t walk on the beach. The patrol will have six trucks — two in the morning and four in the afternoon — patrolling West End beaches, Davis said.

The guards are still standing ready for water rescues, he said.

“We still want to be ready for if things happen, and the water’s still pretty rough right now,” Davis said.

BUSINESS REACTION

While officials hope the closure will keep people away and safe, business owners aren’t convinced it will, and they worry the decision mostly will hurt sales at a time when revenues already are down.

When people hear the news, they’ll cancel their hotel reservations, said Willis Gandhi, president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association. He owns island properties such as Best Western Plus, 8502 Seawall Blvd.

“We tried to stop it,” Gandhi said.

People have been practicing social distancing on the beach and Gandhi isn’t sure why the Fourth of July would be any different, he said.

Restaurants were expecting good sales this weekend for the holiday, said James Clark, president of the Galveston Restaurant Association. Clark also is director of operations and managing partner at Mosquito Cafe, 628 14th St.

“The restaurant association members are disappointed we won’t have our typical stellar holiday weekend sales, but we understand the importance of keeping public safety the top priority,” Clark said.

It’s frustrating to have regulations constantly changing, said Dennis Byrd, who owns The Spot, 3204 Seawall Blvd., and a DoubleTree by Hilton Galveston Beach, 1702 Seawall Blvd.

“I don’t understand the on-and-off switch,” Byrd said.

He understands the intent, but there’s no knowing what the reality will be, he said.

“We have found previously when the beaches were closed it did not discourage the visitors from coming,” Byrd said. “Then the visitors had much less space to congregate.”

The Spot, one of several businesses Byrd operates in the 3200 block of Seawall Boulevard, will probably have extra people managing parking lots in expectation of visitors who aren’t restaurant guests trying to park there, he said.

The closure will hurt business, said Johnny Smecca, a principal in the Galveston Restaurant Group, which owns seawall locations, including Papa’s Pizza, 4400 Seawall Blvd., and Mario’s Seawall Italian Restaurant, 628 Seawall Blvd.

“This is death by a thousand slices,” Smecca said. “Every day there’s a new cut.”

People aren’t getting sick from going to the beach and they’re not getting sick at his restaurants, he said.

“I don’t know what they’re doing when they leave the beach, but they’re not getting it on the beach,” Smecca said.

STATE APPROVAL

A battle over beach closures ensued earlier in the pandemic.

The city closed beaches March 29, only reopening them with limited hours April 27, and the county had closed Bolivar beaches for the Easter weekend.

But in late April, Gov. Greg Abbott had ordered all state beaches open by May 1, throwing out city officials’ slow reopening plan.

Yarbrough last week said the city wasn’t talking about closing the beaches, but officials didn’t think they had the authority to do so, he said.

The city this week has been in conversations with the Texas General Land Office, which regulates state beaches, and the land office has given approval for the closures, Yarbrough said.

Galveston isn’t the first to make the move this week. Nueces County and Corpus Christi closed beach access points Tuesday for the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The land office had approved closures for these local governments, as well as the city of Galveston’s, spokeswoman Karina Erickson said.

Local governments can close beaches for public safety issues, and the land office is advising local officials to make decisions specific to the local public health situation, she said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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(12) comments

Anna Beth Hill

Jamaica Beach Mayor Steve Spicer signed an order on Wednesday, July 1 that the beach is closed in Jamaica Beach for the holiday weekend.

Michelle Aycoth

Sorry but Galveston does not own the beaches !

Andy

Don Schlessinger

Watch

David Shea

And your point is?

Bailey Jones

"The city this week has been in conversations with the Texas General Land Office, which regulates state beaches, and the land office has given approval for the closures."

Wayne D Holt

The lack of outdoor transmission is consistent with the scientific literature.  There is in fact no documentation of effective outdoor transmission of coronavirus; some examples of scientific papers discussing the issue, include:

Qian et al., 2020:   Examined 1245 confirmed cases in 120 cities in China and identified only a single outbreak in an outdoor environment, which involved two cases. 

Nishiura et al., 2020:  Transmission of COVID-19 in a closed environment was 18.7 times greater compared to an open-air environment (95% confidence interval).

The reasons for a lack of outdoor transmission are clear:

Virus concentration are low outdoors because of the tremendous dispersion of the virus in the outside environment.  This results in low viral concentration.  

Solar radiation rapidly kills the virus.

Higher humidity in the outside air is bad for transmission.

Social distancing is much easier outside.

Walter Dannenmaier

Permanently closing the beaches would eliminate the annual toll of death by drowning. Closing the ice cream parlors and burger joints and taquerias would reduce death related to excessive weight. Banning cars from the island would reduce auto fatalities here. Closing the Causeway would help eliminate "problem visitors" from Houston.

Bill Broussard

Convinced me. All great ideas. Let’s do it!

jimmy winston

How is it this difficult to understand? It’s not about the getting infection on the beach, it’s about the number of people who cram on to the island before and after they go to the beach at restaurants, bars, shops, grocery stores etc. if the beaches are closed it’s going to cut down a lot of tourists from visiting, thus limiting crowds at enclosed locations

Bailey Jones

I agree that beaches are probably not high on the list for transmitting COVID, Wayne. The threat is not the beaches, it's the restaurants, bars, restrooms, grocery stores, gift shops, beer stores, hotels, etc., that a few hundred thousand beach goers will visit - closed environments where transmission is 18.7X higher, where 1243 of 1245 confirmed cases in 120 Chinese cities were contracted, areas where social distancing isn't possible, where there is no solar radiation, where there is high viral concentration, and there is lower humidity. And while some groups will be households, many will be groups of friends and friends of friends jammed into cars for long periods of time with the AC on RECIRC.

Wayne D Holt

Local politicians have closed miles of beaches that are drenched in summer sunlight (virus destroying UV), in a salt air environment, with wind dispersion, in high heat and humidity, among those who will predominantly be coming and going to Galveston from this area in the same vehicle.

It took the promoter of the Lone Star Rally to shut down the potential of half a million motorcyclists from all over the country coming to our community as colder weather supports virus spread, to stand shoulder to shoulder, in a few streets downtown, with air circulation at a minimum and no requirements for masking. The City was MIA on decisive leadership on that one.

Does this tell you enough about what constitutes City Hall logic and caution on this issue?

Walter Dannenmaier

Wayne - honestly, I thought you were joking in your previous posts about the Lonestar Motorcycle Rally. What is your mission here? Eliminate all public risk from communicable pathogens? Good luck with that.

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